After our mini-holiday break, it seemed a prudent time to review two of Stephanie Osborn’s stories (both published by Chromosphere Books). The first is THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, while the second is EL VENGADOR. Both stories are interesting, well-researched reads, and feature intelligent storytelling and world building in a small space.
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE is a twenty-page story about “the People.” We meet Griblich and Bihune, two unusual creatures with eight legs, multi-faceted eyes and three lips, who’ve formed a family that lives by a river. Like any family, Griblich and Bihune want their brood to thrive . . . but unlike most families, Griblich and Bihune’s family is able to survive famine, drought, plague and even hard vacuum, providing they can go into something called “oversleep” before they perish.
Mind you, the People will die if they’re not able to get into oversleep first. They can be swept away by floods, burned by wildfires, or even trampled by much larger creatures . . . but despite all that, they’re amazingly hardy creatures.
Because Ms. Osborn is a noted scientist, I was reasonably sure she had a scientific explanation for these creatures, and she does — but as it’s on the last page of the story, I’m not about to spoil it.
I enjoyed reading about the People, and believe Ms. Osborn’s conception is one of the more interesting ways of talking about hard scientific concepts in an easily accessible way I’ve ever seen.
EL VENGADOR is a different type of story entirely, as it’s more of a police procedural/horror hybrid. We start out in the trailer of Elsie Moore, a sixtyish woman with a German Shepherd and a gun. After making a meager meal, she hears a mighty racket outside. She goes out, only to see part of her trailer shredded, as if it had been through a metal compactor . . . and she can’t find her dog anywhere.
Frightened, she calls the police, who take quite some time to respond as Elsie lives way out in the back of beyond. But once Deputy Sheriff Mike Kirtschner responds, he realizes something is very wrong. Whatever the creature was, it left tracks behind that are like nothing he’s ever seen before . . . and while the dog is found unharmed, as the unknown creature is still at large, Kirtschner decides that the best move is to get Elsie and her dog out of the environs completely as the trailer is no longer safe.
Later, he compares notes with a local game warden, Jeff Stuart, and finds out this creature — which Stuart calls “El Vengador” — has been around since Christopher Columbus’s time . . . and might even be Mayan in origin.
This thirty-page novelette is interesting, and the descriptions of El Vengador plus all of the intriguing background that Kirtschner digs up and relates to Stuart brings the story to life.
However, there are two minor drawbacks here, and even though neither one impacted my enjoyment or appreciation of EL VENGADOR much, they still must be mentioned. First, the story has a rather unusual ending . . . and because I don’t want to give the ending away, that makes talking about it rather challenging. (Let’s just say it’s not the ending I was expecting, and leave it at that.) Second, the Southern dialect Elsie Moore speaks in has to be the thickest I’ve ever seen since Mark Twain, and as her internal monologue is clear and distinct, the spoken accent kept throwing me ever so slightly out of the reader’s trance.
As for grades? Because these are shorter works than SBR usually reviews, it’s tough to put a letter grade on them. That said, THE MORE THINGS CHANGE was extremely enjoyable and I appreciated it immensely, while EL VENGADOR was brooding, thoughtful, complex, a good police procedural mixed with a horror ending that didn’t quite work for me — but certainly made me think long after I’d finished reading, which means it succeeded as a story even if it’s not my exact cup of tea.
It was good to see Ms. Osborn’s range demonstrated yet again in both of these stories, and I look forward to more of her work in the future.
If you need grades, though (must have grades!), here they are:
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE: A-plus.
EL VENGADOR: A-minus.
–reviewed by Barb